I haven’t posted an article since Epiphany, Ukraine’s Christmas. I was very busy during the last month. John has been evicted, but there is nothing I can do to help him. He requires more than I can offer. A home for seniors could be his best option. John suffers from Ménière’s disease. He is nearly deaf and he hugs the walls.
But today February is foremost in my mind. It has been extremely cold. We missed groundhog day but we did not Candlemas, la chandeleur. La Chandeleur invites longer days. In the Northern hemisphere, each new day is slightly longer than the previous day. Candlemas, is also the day Simeon recognized the child Jesus as the Savior and the day His mother was purified.
Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634) is a painter of the Dutch Golden Age of painting. He was born in Amsterdam, where he was trained by Danish-born portrait painter Pieter Isaacsz. He moved to Kampen in 1608. Avercamp’s favorite subject matter was winter inhabited by people and their pets going about their everyday activity: working, fishing, or skating and otherwise amusing themselves on the ice. In other words, he was genre artist when genre painting was a new frontier. Moreover, Avercamp lived during a period known as the “little ice age.”
Interestingly, Avercamp painted as though he stood slightly above his subject matter. He used an aerial perspective. He made sketches of his winter scenes which he transformed into paintings in warmer seasons. Hendrick Avercamp was mute and probably deaf, and he is therefore known as “de Stomme van Kampen.”
February was a busy month, but we have almost caught up. The Pagan precursor of St Valentine’s Day was Lupercalia.
Covid will not relent and too many are in denial. On Christmas day, the Montreal police force was making sure regulations were observed. There is a vaccine, but vaccinating everyone will take a long time and the very humble will be the last to be protected. Moreover, there are individuals who will refuse the vaccine. I hope the citizens of the United States will receive their stimulus cheques as soon as possible. This money buys food and keeps a roof over people’s head. No government has the right to neglect its citizens. People pay taxes in order to be safe. It’s the social contract. Besides, if there is money to launch rockets, there is money to keep everyone fed and housed. We must also prepare for other catastrophic events. Losing one’s income is tragic.
When I first introduced to “genre” painting, the word “genre” intrigued me and it still does. Theoretically, “genre” paintings depict people going about their everyday activity. Such a definition suggests a very broad range of paintings. For instance Hendrick Avercamp (January 27, 1585 (bapt.) – May 15, 1634 (buried)), who painted winter lanscapes, is also a “genre” artist in as much as his paintings show people going about their daily chores or skating, or playing golf on ice.
However, we can narrow down the field to people going about their daily tasks indoors and in courtyards rather than outdoors, which leads us back to the Dutch Golden Age and, in particular, to the art of Johannes Vermeer (1632, Delft – December 1675, Delft).[i] Vermeer’s “Girl with the Pearl Earring,” a 1665 portrait, is now a favorite. Yet, Vermeer, a Dutch Golden Agepainter, who lived in Delft, specialized in everyday interior scenes and his paintings of domestic scenes are now considered the standard reference.
Hendrick Avercamp may still qualify as a genre painter and the same is true of the Limbourg brothers, the miniaturists who illuminated Jean de France, duc de Berry’s Très Riches Heures(1412-1416), one of the most extraordinary “Books of Hours.” These paintings feature individuals performing everyday activity or, in the case of Jean de France’s Très Riches Heures, seasonal activities,
Diversity in “Genre” Painting
Yet within the narrower field of interiors, there is diversity. One of Vermeer’s better-known paintings is “The Procuress,” c. 1656, a brothel scene in which Vermeer himself is probably portrayed (first person to the left). “Genre” works may also depict merrymakers in taverns. The “Procuress” is a legitimate genre painting, as are the paintings of drunken deer drinkers. But such paintings may not be purchased by a bourgeois housewife who would prefer to look at an interior resembling her own or one she would like to live in, which is not an insignificant factor.
The Procuress, by Johannes Vermeer, 1656
“The Procuress” is a relatively early work. In fact, by 1656, Vermeer was beginning to paint the luminous interiors, such as the ones featured below, all of which may have been painted in the same two rooms of Vermeer’s well-to-do’s mother-in-law’s house in Oude (Delft). With respect to these somewhat intimiste paintings, it may be helpful to read a few sentences from the Encyclopædia Britannica‘s entry on Vermeer.
Beginning in the late 1650s and lasting over the course of about one decade—a remarkably brief period of productivity, given the enormity of his reputation—Vermeer would create many of his greatest paintings, most of them interior scenes. No other contemporary Dutch artist created scenes with such luminosity or purity of colour, and no other painter’s work was infused with a comparable sense of timelessness and human dignity[ii]
Characteristics of Vermeer’s Interiors
Chief characteristics of Vermeer’s interiors are black and white flooring leading to a vanishing point, leaded and at times colored windows on the left side of the canvas, heavy rugs on tables, musical instruments, virginals in particular, jugs, and, in “The Milk Maid,” a baseboard made of blue Delft tiles (see below). In his “Lady at a Virginal with a Gentleman,” you may have noticed that the mirror above the virginal echoes the floor. Vermeer was influenced by the Utrecht Carravagists (see chiaroscuro) who enjoyed paintings-within-paintings.
Vermeer’s interiors are clean and his characters, neatly dressed. These are rooms that suggest a degree of comfort and are a pleasure to look at as well as a collector’s dream. Vermeer, a Delft artist, sold at least 21 of his paintings to Jacob Dissius, a Delft collector. Pieter van Ruijven, a baker, also bought two paintings by Vermeer. As a result, Vermeer was not well-known outside Delft and, given that he worked slowly, there are only about 34 to 36 paintings indisputably attributed to him. He was, after all, the busy father of eleven children and an art-dealer, as was his father. From his father, he had also inherited an inn.
Although Vermeer seems to have stayed in Delft most of his life, he did not work in isolation. He was a member of The Guild of Saint Luke, which he joined on 29 December 1653. He was elected head of the Guild in 1662, and was re-elected to the same position in 1663, 1670, and 1671, which is a tribute to the exceptional quality of his paitings and esteem on the part of Dwelft painters. He was influenced by Carel Fabritius, Leonaert Bramer, Dirck van Baburen (c. 1595 – 21 February 1624) and Gerrit von Honthorst, an Utrecht Caravaggist. He may have tutored Pieter de Hooch and Nicolaes Maes, but these artists competed with him.
The Disaster: France invades the Dutch Republic
Until the invasion of the Dutch Republic by French troops, in 1672, the Dutch Republic had been a prosperous nation. But it was suddenly severely impoverished. During five years or so, members of the middle-class could not purchase art and, by extension, artists could not sell their art, not to mention that Vermeer worked slowly and used expensive pigments (lapis lazuli, ultramarine, cornflower blue, etc). When he died, in 1675, aged 43, probably of meningitis or encephalitis, then called “frenzy,” Vermeer left behind eleven children and debts to pay. Furthermore, he would be forgotten until rediscovered in the nineteenth century by Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Théophile Thoré-Bürger.
So let this be our introduction to “genre” painting. The Vermeer paintings shown above are interiors and it could well be that focussing on life indoors or in courtyards is the chief characteristic of “genre” painting. Furthermore, we had the privilege of seeing some of the most beloved “genre” pieces in European history.
I must close. So, at this point, let the paintings speak for themselves.
It was not an easy week for this author. If there is any way to avoid bunions, use it. The only possible cause I can think of, in my case, is being made to look feminine by wearing shoes that had high heels and a pointed front. However, the cause could be genetic. At any rate, try to avoid the surgery. Your doctor will supply you with morphine and codeine, but if you kill the pain entirely, you may not notice that there is infection.
The week was otherwise rather pleasant and informative. We saw that:
We noted that there was “legitimate” piracy. These legitimate pirates were called privateers and made a fortune on their own, but they were also in the service of the Crown: Elizabeth the first’s England. Although they were privateers in England, they were pirates in the eyes of the enemy du jour, Spain.
Furthermore, we have associated the rise of capitalism with explorations. I did not know about the Muscovy Trading Company. But as a Canadian, I was familiar with the Hudson’s Bay Company.
We saw that still-life painting in the seventeenth-century Netherlands were Vanitas. They reminded human beings of their mortality.
I nearly forgot the unfortunate dodo. Savery made paintings of the now extinct dodo.
Hendrick Avercamp: Winter and Playing Golf on Ice
And now that winter is here, we are being introduced to Hendrick Avercamp, a seventeenth-century Dutch artist who painted many lovely winter scenes. Thanks to the internet, we can see that in the Netherlands of the seventeenth century, people played golf on ice wearing skates and looked very much as though they were playing hockey. Moreover, in the Netherlands one could commute quickly by skating down frozen waterways. As well, notice the shape of the roofs.
(click on picture to enlarge)
Winter Landscape with Skaters, by Hendrick Avercamp